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Wise and Merciful

  • April 3, 2022 (readings)
  • Fifth Sunday of Lent
  • Andrew Rawicki
  • John 8:1-11

    Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

    Opening Prayer: Heavenly Father, you created me for communion with you. Thank you for sending your Son to be our King, serving with perfect justice and endless mercy. Let me never test you; instead, let me come to you in humility and offer myself to do your will.

    Encountering Christ:

    1. Divine Justice: At the beginning of today’s Gospel, the scene is a familiar one. Jesus, the teacher “par excellence,” sat down and began to instruct the many people who had come to hear him proclaim the eternal truths of the Torah, along with his interpretation of this definitive word of God. We don’t know what the specific subject was that day, but we do know that Jesus could have pulled from numerous tales of the God of Israel exercising perfect justice on his fallen world—expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden perhaps, or sending the Great Flood, or smiting the Egyptians with the ten plagues. Lord, let me remember your divine justice and seek to always discern and do your will.

    2. Divine Mercy: On this particular day, thanks to the conniving scribes and Pharisees, Jesus’ lesson would be interrupted. If the crowd gathered that day had indeed been hearing about divine justice, they were about to also experience first-hand how such justice should be applied. The woman caught in adultery–a sinner like me and you–was guilty. Justice in that day and time demanded a penalty of death for such a sin (cf. Leviticus 20:10). Jesus invited all who brought the charge to search within themselves and to cast the first stone as long as they found themselves sinless. Divine justice allowed none to qualify. That fallen woman was freed to live a new life, changed forever by Jesus’ penetrating divine mercy in these words: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Each of us, when we contritely approach the sacrament of Reconciliation, can be similarly freed from the shackles of sin.\

    3. The First Stone: Many have speculated on what Jesus may have been scrawling in the dirt while the scribes and Pharisees, one by one, departed as they realized they could not cast the first stone. Could it have been that Jesus just wanted these men to bow their heads as they contemplated their own sinfulness? Or was there something Jesus wrote that touched their hearts and allowed them to identify with this poor woman—perhaps the Ten Commandments, or their names, or their own sins, or a question about the whereabouts of the man caught with the woman? Was the message in the dirt meant, instead, for the woman to read—something to assuage her fear? This was the only instance of Jesus writing in the Bible, but we have no record of the message. We do, however, know the words that God has written on our hearts as we listen to this Gospel passage, words that convict us in our sin, but that also console us by making the Lord’s mercy available to us. As today’s psalm response reminds us, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3).

    Conversing with Christ: Lord, I am sorry for the times when I have tested you, and for the times when I have committed offenses against you and the people whom you have placed in my path. Help me during these remaining days of Lent to examine my conscience frequently, and give me the grace to conform more to your will.

    Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will schedule a definite time to enjoy the divine mercy offered in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

    For Further Reflection: Read Pope Francis’ very first Angelus address, from March 17, 2013, reflecting on the episode of the woman caught in adultery.


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